“What’s wrong with us?”
My friends and I looked at each other and laughed, but the question lingered in the air. No one had an adequate response.
It was 10:22 p.m. on a Friday night in July.
It was the kind of summer evening when people are at the lake, or camping, or sitting on the front porch listening to the crickets.
But not us. Instead, we sat shoulder to shoulder around a round plastic table in our office.
Five glowing laptops held our attention. We perched on flimsy lawn chairs, typing, discussing, backspacing, agonizing, and debating. Dried out pizza, empty water bottles, and stacks of paper dotted the landscape.
“Seriously though… why did we ever think this was a good idea?”
More nervous laughter.
Deep inside, we all knew the answer. But voicing it felt insufficient.
We’re starting a charter school. From scratch. In our tiny community of 175 people.
And it’s not just any charter school. It’s a project-based school focused on teaching children real world skills and critical thinking.
It’s utterly insane. And also brilliant.
We have a small public school here, but it’s struggled for as long as anyone can remember. There has been talk of alternatives and options and closures and adjustments for decades. But nothing has really changed.
This spring, it all came to an impasse. “Something has to be done,” everyone said. But then… silence. Sideways glances.
The situation felt grim. Maybe even impossible.
They stepped up.
Two young moms. Friends of ours.
Between their two families, there are seven children under the age of eight. They have jobs and plenty of other responsibilities. They’ve never started a school before. But they took it upon themselves to do something. And off they went.
Christian is on the board and I’m helping with marketing. But they are leading the charge.
I’m convinced climbing Mt. Everest may be easier than starting a charter school.
Most charter school applications take 18 months to complete. They had 5 weeks till deadline.
The amount of paperwork was brutal.
The process is all consuming and shrouded in unknowns.
The meetings were never-ending.
But they turned in the monstrous application.
And now, they wait.
Will this earnest intention to start a project-based school in our tiny rural community be smiled upon by the state?
Only time will tell.
But back to The Question…
“Why DO we do these things?”
Why would someone voluntarily choose death by paperwork when they could be watching Netflix with a margarita instead?
Why would someone going to the immense trouble of growing food when vegetables are readily available at the store?
Why would someone milk a cow when it’s much easier (and cheaper) to buy milk at the grocery store?
Why would someone join the volunteer fire department to respond to car wrecks at 2 a.m. and multi-day grass fires when they could stay in bed and let someone else worry about it?
Why would someone invest in a cluttered, old restaurant with hopes that remodeling it will revive an forgotten frontier town, when we all know the food service industry is an agonizing way to make money?
Most of the time, I know the answer. Most of the time I feel alive with purpose. Most of the time I’m the biggest cheerleader for anyone chasing audacious dreams.
But sometimes, when I’m tired and worn down… it all feels heavy.
And I wonder why I take on the responsibility I do.
“You’re doing this to yourself, you know….” my brain whispers.
It has a point.
I look around (which is never a good idea) and I see some people floating by with nary a care in the world. They’ve crafted their lives to avoid extra responsibility at all costs. So they recreate. And relax. And chill. And consume. 24/7.
Sometimes, for a fleeting moment, it looks blissful.
Some people never have to worry about the mysterious bug eating the squash seedlings.
They never have to think about whether the potatoes are getting enough water. Or if the meat chickens are growing like they should.
They never have to worry how they’ll coordinate tomato canning in the middle of back to school preparations. Or which math curriculum will be best for their 7th grader.
I love entrepreneurship to the core of my being. But I also understand the allure of punching a time clock and leaving all your cares at the office on the weekends.
Some days I’d LOVE to not have to think about the customer who screamed about the restaurant plates not being heated (yes, that really happened) or the rising prices of ice cream and cups and lettuce.
I’d love to let someone else solve how to fill the gap of an employee quitting. Or paper shortage issues when you’re trying to publish a planner. Or glitchy software that breaks in the middle of a course launch.
For many people, weekends are for recreating, sleeping in, eating out, shopping, or watching Netflix. Not building, planning, preparing, and problem solving.
I’m well aware that my life could be so much easier.
These thoughts don’t arise a lot, but they pop up occasionally.
When they do, I’ve learned to be careful with whom I share them. Because the people around me are usually quick to lend credence to the pessimistic side of my brain.
“You do enough already… can’t you just quit?”
“It is what it is… don’t try so hard.”
“Let someone else handle that…”
They are seductive ideas. But when I hear them, my ears ring with warning and I turn away.
Because I know better.
I know what I’m called to do. And as enticing as abdicating responsibility might seem, it’s not the answer.
Not for me, and not for you.
An Overdose of Ease
You see, our culture has it backwards.
They think meaning comes from pleasure. From leisure. From convenience. From recreation.
Sure, those things are nice. For a while.
But if that’s all you have, it’s like eating a steady diet of candy.
It tastes good at first. But sooner or later, you’ll be left feeling empty. And a little sick.
Humans need challenge and struggle. We need to wrestle for something important. As Theodore Roosevelt famously said, we need to know great enthusiasms and worthy causes.
Because it’s within those moments of strife and struggle that we feel fully alive.
You’ll never find purpose while reclining on the couch. You’ll won’t uncover meaning by watching others live their lives on a screen. Being a spectator is safe and risk-free, but the bleachers are no place to live.
A life well-lived can only be found in the arena.
“What calls you out into the world–to your destiny–is not ease,” writes Dr. Jordan Peterson in Beyond Order: 12 More Rules for Life. “It is probable–inevitable–that the adventure of your life will frustrate and disappoint and unsettle you, as you heed the call of conscience and shoulder your responsibility and endeavor to set yourself and the world right. But that is where the deep meaning that orients you and shelters you is to be found.”
Yet despite these truths, our modern culture seems hellbent on removing difficulty from every part of life. Perhaps that is we find ourselves unmoored and miserable.
Ease was never meant to be our highest aim.
Peterson continues, “It is a strange and paradoxical fact that there is a reciprocal relationship between the worth of something and difficulty of accomplishing it.”
And that is why, when someone looks at my life and says, “I’m sorry you have so much to do.”
I say, “Don’t be sorry. I like it like this.”
Of course I there are days when I’m tired and even days when I doubt. But that doesn’t erase the knowing I carry in my gut.
I was made for this.
If you want to feel sorry for someone, feel sorry for the people who’ve never experienced the breathless excitement of doing something they were told wasn’t possible.
The ones who’ve never tested their wits and emerged victorious.
The ones who’ve never experienced the nauseating excitement of saying yes to something that scares them to death.
The ones who’ve never been so immersed in a project that time stops and nothing else matters.
Feel sorry for them.
Because while it’s hard to grow tomatoes and run businesses and start schools, it’s much, MUCH harder to live an unfulfilled life full of regrets.
And when we voluntarily grasp the torch of responsibility, THAT is when life becomes exhilarating.
So Is it Worth It?
Do Christian and I dream too big? Maybe.
Are we a little crazy? Certainly.
Do we bite off more than we can chew? Sometimes.
But is chasing these audacious goals worthwhile?
A thousand yeses.
Even on the days I wish for an empty calendar.
Even on the days when the load feels extra heavy.
Even on the days when I wonder what life would be like without all these moving parts.
I know in the deepest parts of my soul, it’s worth it.
And the next time you find yourself saying the words, “I wish somebody would do something about…”
Darling, consider that someone might just be YOU.
P.S. It’ll be a while before we’ll know if the charter school application was approved. If it is, the real work will begin. If it is not, we’ll rest easy knowing we did all we could. If you’re in Wyoming and would like to learn more about our proposed school, you can visit the website here.
P.S.S. The responsibility to which YOU are called will not be the same as mine. I’m not saying homesteading or entrepreneurship or homeschooling or owning a 100-year old soda fountain or starting a charter school is THE prescribed path of responsibility for all. Of course not. Shouldering meaningful responsibility will look different for each of us. I don’t know what your calling is, but your gut will tell you if you take a moment to listen.